Volume 52   Number 1 Winter 2019

From our Members

Ediited by Susan M. Wolfe, Susan Wolfe and Associates

Promoting Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Decide

Written by Darren Thomas and Courtney Arseneau, Indigenous Rights and Resource Governance Research Group, Wilfrid Laurier University

The Laurier Indigenous Rights and Resource Governance Research Group is a team of Indigenous and allied scholars that have been working together to advance an intercultural understanding of the principles of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). In light of the increasing demand for development on traditional territory, including the extraction of resources from mineral-rich lands, our SSHRC funded research focuses on promoting Indigenous Peoples’ inherent right to self-determined development—the right to decide whether or not to pursue proposed development within their territories, and the right to do so on their own terms.


It has been over 10 years since the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The declaration articulates the minimum basic standard of fundamental rights that Indigenous Peoples worldwide should retain, including the right to self-determination and the principles of FPIC when states pursue legislative or administrative measures that could affect the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Not only has Canada formally endorsed the UNDRIP, but it also has a duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples when their s. 35 constitutional rights may be infringed upon, as stated by Haida v. British Columbia (2004). With particular attention to the right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), we have worked to understand what FPIC means from the perspectives of Indigenous communities and have found that there continues to be critical limitations to consultation processes and consent-seeking processes today.

Our Approach                                     

As community psychologists, we are often asked how we became involved in matters of resource governance. While we often collaborate with experts in law, political science, environmental science, and economics, we have found that the theories and values of community psychology have greatly informed our approach, methods, and framing of the highly complex legal, political, and cultural contexts in which proposed development projects take place. For example, we view the opportunities and challenges of self-determined development from a systems-level perspective that recognizes the critical role of power when Indigenous Peoples assert their rights to make decisions about their lands and territories. Despite advancements in Indigenous rights standards both domestically and internationally, we continue to observe non-Indigenous governments imposing their own agendas and timelines for proposed projects.

We take a rights-based approach to our work. This means that while we do not position ourselves as “pro” or “anti” development, we frame our work by asserting Indigenous Peoples’ inherent right to self-determination. Throughout our research engagement, we have come to learn that community members are often unaware of advancements in both domestic and international Indigenous rights frameworks that may be useful tools for further asserting their inherent rights. We believe that an important part of informed decision-making is knowing what your rights are.

We are thrilled that our supervisor, Dr. Terry Mitchell, was recently recognized as one of the top three SSHRC funded scholars in Canada whose research makes an impact on the wider community through research knowledge exchange and information-sharing. As one of the finalists for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)’s Impact Connection Award, Dr. Mitchell has guided our team in building long-lasting partnerships with Indigenous communities through comparative case study research and with an interdisciplinary team of scholars and advisors known as the Pan-American Indigenous Rights and Resource Governance Network (PAIRR-GN). Relationship building has been integral to our work and has greatly facilitated our capacity to share high quality resources and emerging research on Indigenous rights widely across our networks, at both the academic and community levels.

Improving Access to Information about the Right to FPIC

Over the last several years, our team has enjoyed finding creative ways of bringing information to communities. Our growing collection of FPIC resources (including technical information, academic literature, and community-based reports) has been shared in a number of ways. We have been working to synthesize technical information into visual plain-language materials such as infographics, pamphlets, and posters, which are free to download and share. We have also organized a workshop about FPIC in northern Ontario, where we hosted United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who visited with community members in the region and gave a public talk about the right to FPIC.

Notably, our team has developed a website that was designed to provide communities with information and resources about FPIC: In our efforts to increase access to information about the right to FPIC, we designed the site to be mobile friendly with the idea that Indigenous Peoples would have information about their rights on their cell phones, what we like to call having ‘power in your pocket’. The site promotes community members having access to information they may need at various stages of consultations and decision making regarding proposed development with community friendly resources available directly on their phones or computers. The mobile friendly site provides access to articles, toolkits, videos, podcasts and community-friendly resources.

The process of developing this website was very interesting for us. We worked with a former intern from our CP program, Pedro Poblete Lasserre, who guided us through a user-focused design approach to website development by doing interviews with community members and piloting early versions of the website to ensure that it would be useful, meaningful, and accessible. The website is now up and running and is being hosted and maintained by our partners at Deyohahá:ge, the Indigenous Knowledge Centre at Six Nations Polytechnic.

Implications & Next Steps

In the early days, Dr. Mitchell’s research team was considering solutions to the ongoing health crisis within Indigenous communities. Gaining insight into the complexities of the social-political history of Indigenous Peoples, we realized that transformative change for Indigenous Peoples would require political solutions. We began to consider where and how Indigenous Peoples could exercise their power. We began to consider the ongoing demands of extractive industries and how, in Canada, some Indigenous communities have been able to negotiate benefit agreements with proponents. While it may be hard to imagine in many parts of the world Indigenous communities continue to hunt, fish, trap, and gather their foods to live off the land and are inherently connected to their environments. In these same lands the quest for development and extractive industries are poised to expand development. One does not have to look far to witness the ecological harm that is caused by extractive industries. If industries come into these lands and destroy the ecosystem, then they are effectively destroying the Indigenous peoples and their territories and life ways.

Historically, development agreements have disadvantaged Indigenous Peoples. The Indigenous Rights and Resource Governance Research team envisioned filling a gap to support Indigenous communities that have limited capacity to deal with the complex domestic and international rights issues surrounding resource extraction. The knowledge of law, engineering, economics, and ecology that is required to understand the impacts of decisions to engage in extractive industries is highly technical and can be overwhelming. We considered how to use our knowledge of community capacity building to bring interdisciplinary and intercultural knowledge to communities in meaningful ways and to support Indigenous communities in their decision-making processes. 

Our research quickly expanded to include South American Indigenous partners and allied scholars to promote knowledge and experience sharing across the Americas. This is reflected in our logo which depicts the Canadian Eagle and the South American Condor. Our research team has had the privilege of collaborating with and hosting international conferences with many Indigenous leaders, leading scholars and activists from Canada, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, New Zealand, and Norway who have dedicated their lives to researching and addressing these issues. Our network will continue to grow because we know that these demands are global, and that in many parts of the world Indigenous and Allied rights defenders are threatened and murdered as they fight to protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights. One of our colleagues at First Peoples Worldwide, Rebecca Adamson conducted research stating that Indigenous Peoples live on 24% of the world’s landmass, but that this 24% contains 80% of the world’s biodiversity. This means that development and the quest for resources will not be ending anytime soon. Indigenous Peoples globally need tools to further assert their inherent rights as Nation States and industries continue to exploit their lands.              

We hope that our research partnerships will continue to have a positive impact in promoting Indigenous People’s right to decide. In the spirit of knowledge exchange, our website and resources have been translated into Spanish and English. Our next steps are to continue with translations into French and importantly into Oji-Cree and other Indigenous languages. In addition to our main website, if you would like to learn more about FPIC, we have created a mini-webpage that will provide you with a summary and key documents related to Indigenous Peoples’ right to FPIC: We hope you will share this resource with your networks and work as Community Psychologists to advance social justice through rights-based land governance and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples worldwide.

Using the Lens of Community Psychology to Understand My Political Choices as a Zimbabwean Citizen

Written by Noreen Kudzanai Wini Dari, Psycmates Consulting Services

Using_the_Lens_of_Community_Psychology_1.jpgFor many community psychologists around the world, voting may not seem like such a big deal. I have been a registered voter for two decades and, since the day I initially qualified as a voter under the Zimbabwe constitution, I had not voted since. In June of 2018 I chose to vote. I voted because I believed I had a right to be heard and that I would be heard, that I will be heard. I trace my journey here as a voter, interpreting this experience from the perspective of a community psychologist.

I was born in independent Zimbabwe and I remember the pride that my elders had for being Zimbabwean for they had just fought the war of liberation and emerged as victors. That pride was passed down to me, and I remember singing the national anthem in primary school with such a great anticipation of good things to come inside my small body. I was part of the collective building “Our Zimbabwe”, the breadbasket of Africa, a country with a comparatively impressive literacy rate. There was a great sense of community among Zimbabweans, from diverse backgrounds each working hard to ensure the country soared higher.

In the 1980s though, cases of corruption started filtering through the political landscape, and more than a certain level of trust was lost among the Zimbabwean nationals (Wini-Dari & Hamauswa, 2016). The masses were angry at those who had dared steal from “us”, as the wealth and well-being of Zimbabwe was our creation and ours to bear. What was popularly referred to as the Sandura Commission was initiated, despite the findings which implicated various ministers and government officials no arrests were made. Suddenly it dawned on me and many others that maybe we didn't belong as much as we thought we did to this great nation, that we did not have the social political control to make it even greater, not at least as much as we once thought.

When the Sense of Belonging is Lost

The government of the day continued to make decisions which seemingly disregarded people like myself. It was as if the government had said to me, without speaking a word, that I was not a stakeholder in Zimbabwe. Me and the bulk of my fellow comrades, the Zimbabwean masses, got the message and we edged closer to the Rubicon ‒ Julius Caesar’s river he crossed and said, “the die is cast”. Others crossed that figurative river, some crossed it but came back, continuing on the back and forth trend, while others set with their feet in the river, and others just stood on the river bank. As I turned 18, I earned the right to vote and speak into the fate of my country. It is a right I never embraced; it is a right from which I walked away. I had nothing to say, other than “uHHH they will never listen to me, oh no they won’t hear me.” I had the right to vote but no right or no sense of meaning to participate. I had the right, but government corruption put it in my mind, so I made a conscious choice never to use it.

20 Years later

I woke up to an announcement by a uniformed soldier at 5am on TV narrating that the president of the republic of Zimbabwe was under the protection of the Army as it sought to resolve some issues of criminals around the president. I was indifferent to the announcement; I proceeded with my day as usual. As the week progressed an invitation was made to the citizens of Zimbabwe to come and march against the rule of R.G. Mugabe. He was a man I had admired and respected as a young girl, a revered statesman who stood and fought for the rights of the black Zimbabwean. He and his administration had given me so much and so much they had taken away. They had robbed me of the right to participate, to belong and to possess diverse views, to have a hope that my small voice could have an influence on the country. With the freedom they ushered in oppression, such a strange dichotomy.

Using_the_Lens_of_Community_Psychology_2.jpgSo, I took to the streets of Harare, marching against the Mugabe rule. It was liberating. I finally had a voice to say I didn't like ABC nor XYZ. I walked in the scorching heat, celebrating with strangers whose faces or spirit I did not know, but they were comrades who shared a predicament similar to mine. We all agreed this was necessary. We sang, we danced, we felt alive. At this stage I felt hopeful about my participation as a citizen. As the sunset and I walked home a new song broke into my life, for the first time in over two decades I felt I could participate in the politics of my country, I belonged to Zimbabwe and would surely register to vote in the next election. I would be counted as a Zimbabwean. I trusted my fellow countrymen to hear my voice along with the right the motherland had given me.

The Future

On the 31st of July 2018, I walked into a voting booth with three papers in hand. I cast my vote. I had voted, I was a Zimbabwean and was participating in matters that affected my country. I am happy I voted.

The future will always shine a bright star on any nation that allows its citizens to participate in matters that affect them and their country.  Consistent with community psychology values, citizens need to feel they belong and that there is a mutual commitment from the government to nurture the interdependent relationship between citizens and state. The state has to acknowledge the differences that exist within and throughout their country and value of diversity to promote social justice where equitable allocation of resources and power is done. We as community psychologists must continue to put these values to work in our quest for better communities, and we must encourage the State to borrow from these value systems, to retain the participation and collaboration of its citizens.


Wini-Dari, N. K., & Hamauswa, S. (2016). Fighting corruption in Zimbabwe: Making a case for community psychology towards the realisation of ZimAsset. Journal of Studies in Social Sciences and Humanities, 2(4), 152-160.